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Sheldon Richman

America Must Reject Netanyahu’s War Cry on Iran


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to Washington this week to prepare the American people for war against Iran. Backed by American neoconservatives, the Israel lobby, and assorted other war hawks, Netanyahu insists that Iran intends to build a nuclear weapon and thus is an “existential threat” to Israel. He has no confidence that President Obama will negotiate an agreement that once and for all will end Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions.

Thus the prime minister’s objective is nothing less than to wreck the current negotiations and push America into a regime-changing war against Iran.

Netanyahu’s narrative is a fabric of lies and omissions.

To begin, Iran has not sought a nuclear weapon, and the country’s leader declares such weapons contrary to Islam. (For details, see Gareth Porter’s well-documented Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.) For a quarter century, Netanyahu has warned that an Iranian bomb is imminent. But US and Israeli intel say he’s wrong.

Iran nevertheless wants to reassure the world so that crushing economic sanctions will be lifted. Hence, the current negotiations. (Iran made similar overtures before.)
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Domestic Fear is the Price of Empire


If you find no other argument against American intervention abroad persuasive, how about this one? When the US government invades and occupies other countries, or when it underwrites other governments’ invasions or oppression, the people in the victimized societies become angry enough to want and even to exact revenge — against Americans.

Is the American empire worth that price?

We should ask ourselves this question in the wake of the weekend news that al-Shabaab, the militant Islamist organization that rules parts of Somalia ISIS-style, appeared to encourage attacks at American (and Canadian) shopping malls.

Maybe the Shabaab video was just a prank to scare us. Maybe it was an attempt to plant violent thoughts in the minds of Somalis living in the United States. No one believes that the organization itself is capable of attacking Americans where they live, but that doesn’t mean Shabaab-inspired violence is impossible.
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Brian Williams Helped Pave the Way to War


The scandal of the week is NBC anchor Brian Williams’s shabby bid for self-glorification by falsely claiming he was in a US military helicopter forced to land in the Iraqi desert after being hit by ground fire in 2003. Of course so-called news people shouldn’t make up stuff to look good, but there’s something much worse: uncritically passing along official lies intended to prepare the American people for war.

Williams, like nearly all of his mainstream media colleagues (with precious few exceptions) did this incessantly in the run-up to George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. As conduits for the Bush administration’s baseless claims about weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi links to 9/11, Williams and the others did Bush’s bidding in manufacturing public support for the illegal and morally outrageous invasion and occupation that would wreck Iraq even more than it had been wrecked in the 1990s through the military and economic warfare waged by George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

What did these fake-news presenters learn from that disgraceful episode? Not a thing. If you want proof, tune in to the three major networks’ newscasts or consult the American cable news channels: CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. There you’ll find stage actors conveying the Obama administration’s neoconservative line about the ISIS threat to the American people and the need for government military action to counteract it — never noting that there was no ISIS or al-Qaeda in Iraq before the Bush war they helped make possible. Reporting “news” without providing the context is a surefire way to mislead viewers. Why don’t they know that? Or do they know it and prefer to mislead their viewers out of a sense of patriotism and in a quest for ratings?
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America's James Bond Complex


Today, American politicians of both major parties — conservatives, “moderates,” and so-called liberals alike — insist that the United States is an “exceptional,” even “indispensable” nation. In practice, this means that for the United States alone the rules are different. Particularly in international affairs, it — the government and its personnel — can do whatever deemed necessary to carry out its objectives, including things that would get any other government or person branded a criminal.

This is nothing new. “American exceptionalism” goes back to the founding. When American politicians set their sights on Spain’s North American possessions, they were driven by the same attitude. In their view the new “Empire of Liberty,” as Jefferson called it, was destined to replace the old, worn-out empires of Europe in its hemisphere. They had no doubt that the Old World’s colonial possessions would eventually fall under the jurisdiction of the  US government, either formally or informally.

Acquisition through negotiation was preferred over war by a good number of presidents, secretaries of state, and members of Congress, but if war was necessary, they intended to be prepared and to let Spain and her fellow colonial powers know it. Thus the push for a global navy under James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams before 1820. Manifest destiny! (Congress’s constitutional war power was a burr under the saddle for Adams and others, who thought war-making was properly an executive power.)
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The Open Society and its Worst Enemies


Last week’s bloody events in Paris demonstrate yet again that a noninterventionist foreign policy, far from being a luxury, is an urgent necessity — literally a matter of life and death. A government that repeatedly wages wars of aggression — the most extreme form of extremism — endangers the society it ostensibly protects by gratuitously making enemies, some of whom will seek revenge against those who tolerate, finance, and symbolize that government and its policies. (On the specific connection between the Paris attacks and wars of aggression, see my “Understanding the Paris Violence.”)

Obviously, the police in more or less open societies — “but rather less than more” — cannot fully prevent the kind of violence that occurred at Charlie Hebdo and the kosher grocery Hyper Cacher. Some or all of the killers, who were known to authorities, reportedly spent time in Syria, Iraq, or Yemen with al-Qaeda or the Islamic State — organizations, let us recall, that were not in those places or did not exist before George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 and started bombing other Muslim societies in his “war on terror.” But travel abroad is not necessary to carry out horrendous attacks. The Internet provides all the information a would-be killer could want to pull off a mass atrocity. “Lone wolf” operations executed by “self-radicalized” individuals are by nature virtually undetectable, even with a battalion of spies and suborned informants or sophisticated eavesdropping regimes.
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The Politicians Are Scaring You Again

Fear Twisted

They are doing it again. “They” are the war-party politicians, Democrats and Republicans. “It” is scaring you into supporting another war in the Middle East.

When will the American people learn? If in a republic the people are the ultimate check on government power, a gullible, easily frightened public is a disaster waiting to happen. Where is the derisive skepticism Americans are reputed to feel toward politicians? A high-ranking official and, say, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour need only say “Boogeyman!” and Americans line up for orders.

“Americans are increasingly concerned that ISIS represents a direct terror threat, fearful that ISIS agents are living in the United States, according to a new CNN/ORC International poll. Most now support military action against the terrorist group,” CNN reported in September. “Seven in 10 Americans believe ISIS has the resources to launch an attack against the United States.”

Administration officials leave the impression that the Islamic State (ISIS), which holds territory in Iraq and Syria, directly threatens Americans at home, although when pressed, these officials won’t say this outright. In interviews President Obama says there is no “immediate intelligence” concerning a threat, but he insists the U.S. military must strike ISIS now or else…
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Obama Follows Bush's Iraq Playbook

Barrack Obama George Bush 1

U.S. politicians are exploiting the gruesome beheadings of two American journalists to whip up war fever against ISIS, the “criminal gang” masquerading as an organization of devout Sunni Muslims that controls large parts of Syria and Iraq. The American propaganda campaign seems to be working if recent polls are accurate.

No decent person is anything but appalled by those executions. But are they grounds for the United States to go to war?

No, they are not. Barack Obama says his job is to protect Americans wherever they are, but he doesn’t cite the source of this power. No such power is implied in the president’s oath of office, which obligates him only to “faithfully execute the Office of President” and to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.”

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US Government Still Trying for Cuba Regime Change

Usaid CIA

When I saw the headline about the U.S. government and Cuba in my newspaper the other day, I thought I’d awoken in 1961. It was a Twilight Zone moment for sure: “U.S. program aimed to stir dissent in Cuba.” I expected Rod Serling to welcome me to “another dimension.”

But it was 2014. The AP news report said President Barack Obama and presumably then–secretary of state Hillary Clinton had plotted to incite a popular uprising — to “gin up opposition” — against the Cuban government by sending in young Latin Americans masquerading as tourists and health workers.

Did Obama, Clinton, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which oversaw the operation, learn nothing from the 1960s, when the Kennedy and Johnson administrations tried repeatedly to overthrow Cuban ruler Fidel Castro and even to assassinate him?

The AP investigation disclosed that the USAID agents had “little training in the dangers of clandestine operations — or how to evade one of the world’s most sophisticated counter-intelligence services.” Nevertheless, the AP continued, “their assignment was to recruit young Cubans to anti-government activism, which they did under the guise of civic programs, including an HIV prevention workshop.” The program, which lasted at least two years, began shortly after Obama’s inauguration.
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In Foreign Affairs, Not Doing Anything Is The Thing To Do


The heartbreaking violence in the Middle East, Ukraine, and elsewhere carries many messages, but here’s one Americans shouldn’t miss: The United States — no matter who the president is — cannot manage world conflict. The corollary is that when a president tries to manage it, things will usually get worse. Foresight is always defective, and tragic unintended consequences will prevail.

The foreign-policy “experts” in both major political parties, and the intelligentsia generally, think otherwise. No matter who holds power, we can expect the opposition to complain that the chief executive poorly anticipated and thus improperly responded to world events.

If this charge weren’t so ominous, it would be comical to hear Republicans berating Barack Obama for failing to be “proactive,” for repeatedly being caught by surprise, and for not exerting “American leadership” to keep the world’s hot spots under control and, most important, in harmony with “American interests.”
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The Disaster That is US Foreign Policy

US Soldier Afghanistan

We live in angry times. For evidence, turn on any news program. An awful lot of people, led by right-wing politicians and radio and TV entertainers, are angry at Barack Obama for trading five Taliban officials, who have been held for years without charge in the Guantánamo prison, for an American soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who apparently walked away from his outpost after having a change of heart about the Afghan war. The Right is apoplectic.

To make matters worse for the right wing, Obama had the nerve to embrace — on the grounds of the White House no less — the soldier’s parents, who themselves are under suspicion by the Right. Bergdahl’s father, after all, wears an ominously bushy beard (is the Calvinist really a Muslim?) and spoke to his son in Pashto, the language of the son’s captors. Worse yet, he was so desperate to rescue his son that he tweeted to a Taliban spokesman, “I am still working to free all Guantánamo prisoners. God will repay for the death of every Afghan child, ameen.” (The tweet was later deleted.)

Before his disappearance, then-PFC Bergdahl emailed disparaging remarks about the U.S. military and America itself after he saw a U.S. military truck run over an Afghan child.

These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live.… We don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks.… We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them.… I am sorry for everything. The horror that is america [sic] is disgusting.

In response to this email, his father wrote, “In matters of life and death, and especially at war, it is never safe to ignore ones’ [sic] conscience. Ethics demands obedience to our conscience. It is best to also have a systematic oral defense of what our conscience demands. Stand with like minded men when possible.”

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